Past research has suggested that giving birth at a later age (after 35) may indicate that a mother will live a longer life than normal and face a lower risk of some cancers. Now, a new study says their children may benefit as well.
Researchers in Germany studied data from more than 1.5 million Swedish adults. They found that people born to mothers in their late 30s or 40s are more likely to have completed more years of education and are taller and more physically fit.
Interestingly, this held true even within individual families, where the youngest children appeared to have advantages over their older siblings.
“These are interesting findings, but the important question is whether those benefits outweigh the physical risks of pregnancy over 35,” says Dr. Kumudchandra Shah, an obstetrician on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “In addition to age, obesity rates continue to rise, which only adds further potential risk to pregnancy.”
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, older women are more likely to bring existing health issues to the pregnancy, are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure, more likely to need a cesarean section or develop gestational diabetes, and face an increased risk of pre-term labor and birth.
Despite these statistics, the average age of first birth has been rising in many parts of the world. In the United States, the average age of first time mothers rose 1.6 years between 2000 and 2014 and, at 26.3, is now the highest it’s ever been. According to the study, the average woman in both Germany and the United Kingdom has her first child at 30. News is buzzing across the globe over celebrity Janet Jackson’s announcement of her first pregnancy at the age of 49.
So why are children born to older mothers doing better than their peers? Study authors believe it is largely because they are born later and are able to take advantage of societal advances, like improved health and medicine, more educational opportunities and societal progress, that occur in the period during which a mother delays childbearing.
“Fortunately, as more and more women delay pregnancy, we also continue to make medical advances that help them have safer pregnancies,” says Dr. Shah. “While the risk of pregnancy complications are lower for younger women, older women can – and do – have healthy pregnancies all the time. A lot depends on a woman’s individual health and risk factors, so anyone considering a first pregnancy after 35 should work closely with an obstetrician.”